Mohamed Hassan has been working for Amazon for three years, and the job has only gotten harder. He’s in the company’s fulfillment center in Shakopee, late at night, moving heavy packages.
The workload has ramped up to an “intolerable” rate, he says, with packages moving by at increasing speeds and less and less room for error. Workers are reportedly allowed one mistake for every 2,200 items processed. Make too many, and you get fired.
“No one can meet this intense rate of demand,” Hassan says. “Amazon treats us like robots. They just keep pushing us.”
So from about midnight to 3 a.m. on Friday morning, Hassan and a group of late-night workers at the Shakopee facility stopped working, protesting the undue strain. They were mostly East African employees with heavy-lifting jobs.
The demonstration was organized by the Awood Center. It’s the same nonprofit that helped workers put on a 100-person protest in mid-December, citing harsh conditions and lack of opportunity for East African employees. It was believed to be the first protest of its kind in an Amazon, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar showed up and “encouraged the crowd to keep up the fight,” according to the Shakopee Valley News.
And by the looks of it, they are. Their demands – written on a legal pad and posted to Awood’s Facebook page – are much the same as they were in December. Workers want their bosses to stop counting prayer and bathroom breaks against their productivity rate, more “opportunities for us to get promoted,” and “management who support us, not just look out for themselves.”
They also listed a number of health, safety, and job concerns, including “unfair firings, “temp hirings,” lacking “a voice in the decisions that [affect] our work” and “maintain[ing] the pallet jacks to reduce injury and strain.”
Awood told Gizmodo there were about 30 strikers. An Amazon spokesperson told Shakopee Valley News that it was actually “fewer than 15,” which is “less than half of the department’s night shift staff."
“A small group of associates left during their shift, some of whom went to a nearby restaurant so we disagree on how this activity has been portrayed,” spokesperson Brenda Alfred said in a statement to City Pages. "There was no impact on our operations, as the majority of employees continued to work."
Hassan will concede that the group of strikers was relatively small, but says there were sympathetic workers who remained behind. Some send checks back to their families in Somalia, and can’t afford to get on their employer’s bad side. This strike was for them too.
The reaction from management wasn’t exactly encouraging, he says. “When we came back, they talked to us in a really disrespectful way.”
He says they were told they could either “handle the speed” or “lose the job.” He knows workers who are choosing the latter by looking for other jobs or considering leaving the United States.